I was around 25 years old when I claimed Feminist as part of my personal identity. It took me that long to realize that’s what it was, even though my whole life had already been thriving due to those principles. It took a man to help me realize this and claim this identity; although, it was women who had been laying down the path for me up until that point. It took all of them to help me reach that place where I could realize that being a feminist, owning that label, was crucial to my identity and crucial to being a part of the change I wished to see in the world.
I remember the day I finally set my mind to it. That morning, I had met with my male advisor, and after some talking he asked if I considered myself a feminist. I said no for all of the typical reasons a young woman or man usually does – feminists are the angry ones who hate men, don’t have a sense of humor, and are usually causing a fuss. I didn’t want to be associated with that. But his question stayed with me. The question kept ringing through my mind as I walked along later on in the day, until I finally came to the turn in my thoughts that made all of the difference. Every day labels are placed upon us. Every day we choose labels to define ourselves. I call myself a Christian, but that doesn’t mean I agree with everyone who calls themselves a Christian. In fact, there were so many “Christians” out there that I disagreed with that I almost didn’t want that title upon me; and yet, I still owned it, hoping to show that you didn’t have to be that way to be a Christian. So why couldn’t I do that with the label, Feminist? I didn’t have a response for myself. There was no other way. I believed too strongly in the fundamental ideas that all are created equal; that we are to love one another as we love ourselves; that we are all created in the image of God. I couldn’t argue the issue with myself anymore. I thought, “I am a feminist.” And so, from that point on, I educated myself. I inhaled anything I could get my hands on, reading up on the history of feminist and womynist movements; checking my own internalized patriarchy, privilege, and stereotypes; reading up on current feminist critiques, allowing myself to wrestle in the challenge and discomfort of those critiques; and all the while remaining grounded in my faith, seeking after the way of Christ within this new way of seeing the world.
It is the centrality of Christ that has freed me to face my hurt and anger while also healing me; teaching me the power of grace and forgiveness, so that I may extend it to those who perpetuate sexism and patriarchy around me. I am not the only one who has experienced the power and importance of this healing. During my time at the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW59) last week, I saw this in practice all around me. Women and men who have fought for equality for so many years, still struggling with the pain of oppression; yet, letting it motivate them into the action of personal healing, the necessity of collaboration, education, and speaking out in the face of violence.
One of the particular ways my heart is broken over the sin of patriarchy is in the ways the Church has participated in it. Where we could be a prophetic voice speaking against the various forms of gender based violence, even those examples found within our book of faith; we have chosen the stance of denial and ignorance. We prefer to see these many, many examples within our world as someone else’s problem rather than our own. We feign naiveté over the reality that at least 1 in 3 women are survivors of sexual or physical violence; rather than wonder what this means for the people attending worship with us every Sunday. We use historical context to excuse away the examples of violence against women within our sacred texts, rather than wrestle with what this means about the “God-chosen” Patriarchs of our faith who have shaped our religion. As Rev. Richard Irwin shared in the side-event Sacred and Safe: Building Capacity of Faith Communities to address Gender-Based Violence, “What if the Patriarchs had said, ‘no’?” This question haunts me. What if, from the beginning, women and men stood up and said, “NO. We will not stand by and allow this violence to happen to our people?” What is keeping us from standing up and saying that now?
I am a youth, children, and family minister within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I have returned home inspired with a renewed commitment to not only exemplify what it means to be a Christian feminist, but to be an active participant in creating a church culture that speaks about and practices taking up the cross. Within my sphere of influence, I wish to live out a theology of the cross by naming the reality and pervasiveness of sin as it is exemplified in the oppression of patriarchy and acts of gender-based violence. I will continue to recognize Christ in our midst, who bears the wounds of death, but is no longer fettered by death. I will remember the grace of the cross; that it is not our will or perfect abilities that will change the oppression of this age, but the transformative power of Christ within each of us. It is the power of Christ that strengthens us to step forward together, speak out against the reality of sin, practice forgiveness, and live remembering that the kingdom of God is among us. When we choose denial and silence, we choose fear rather than faith. We fail to see Christ in our midst, within each other and the wounds we bear. Let us take up the cross, follow Christ, and live the kingdom of God among us.